William B. Hoyt has a lot of advice for banks looking to sell insurance through an independent agent. And he gives it away for free.

Mr. Hoyt, a marketing director for the Charlotte, N.C.-based property and casualty insurer Royal and SunAlliance U.S.A., has helped broker joint ventures between banks and agencies by helping iron out cultural differences, overcome legal hurdles, and develop marketing models.

But the relationship is not intended to be one-sided, Mr. Hoyt said. "My objective is to have Royal and SunAlliance be the lead insurer" in the joint ventures, he said.

Many insurers give advice, but it usually comes with a price tag - or at least a long-term marketing agreement-attached. Mr. Hoyt's no-strings approach gives a new twist to Royal's more traditional sales efforts with banking companies such as Chase Manhattan Corp. and HSBC Holdings. "It's an excellent strategy, given that banks are still struggling with what to do," said Patrick Moore, a consultant in Cleveland who works with both banks and insurers.

Mr. Moore said the tangle of legal and marketing issues can confound a bank and early assistance by an insurer "can cement the relationship."

Russell Dann, the chief executive officer of Bannockburn, Ill.-based Dann Insurance, said Mr. Hoyt's advice was helpful in a deal that closed last month.

The deal with Wheeling, Ill.-based Cole Taylor Bank, a thrift with $2 billion of assets, creates a limited liability partnership that should help achieve wider sales, Mr. Dann said.

Dann Insurance, which had $10 million of revenue last year, is to sell Royal's homeowners insurance but go elsewhere for products such as mass- marketed auto insurance, Mr. Dann said. "I don't have to give them one piece of business," he added.

Mr. Hoyt has specialized in the bank channel since 1996 when the Supreme Court made its Barnett decision, opening the way for banks to sell insurance.

The insurance company saw opportunity in banks and asked Mr. Hoyt to become an expert. He said he joined all the bank insurance associations and initially did a lot of work with Chase, one of the bigger bank sellers of Royal products.

Royal has 31 banks selling its insurance products. Mr. Hoyt assists with all bank customers but has spent more time lately focusing on joint ventures. In addition to the Cole Taylor deal, he has helped form two other joint ventures that are near completion. Mr. Hoyt said he has also been involved in creating some of the company's 13 third-party marketing arrangements between bank and agency customers.

Though bank sales of insurance are "just a blip on the radar screen," Mr. Hoyt said, he "expects banks to become dominant players in the markets they are in."

There are a few hurdles to clear before banks can achieve dominance, he said, however. Banks often have unrealistic ideas about the business, he said. Many expect to start an insurance program that penetrates 5% of the bank's customers per year.

"I don't think so," he said. "What you should be looking at is revenue growth and the management expense side and let the numbers take care of themselves."

Banks would do better to focus on specific sales goals. For example, they could probably sell homeowners insurance to up to half of the customers taking out new mortgages since they have a present need and do not have an established underwriting relationship.

Another difficulty is that many agencies looking to get into bank insurance sales are not cut out for it, Mr. Hoyt said. "You have to have a marketing-oriented agency to understand how to sell through a bank," he said.

The problem is that bankers are not trained to identify the best insurance leads and may not be inclined to pass them along. A good agent will overcome that, he said.

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